Published April 18, 2012
The good news about the Good Book is that it's still the No. 1 seller of all time, with an estimated 6 billion copies sold.
The not-so-good news though, according to a new survey by The American Bible Society, is that it's lost a bit of its prominence in affecting people's lives.
The "State of the Bible 2012" looked at the trends surrounding the most influential book of Western civilization. The survey found that while 82 percent of Americans revere the Bible as sacred literature, that number is down slightly from a year ago when 86 percent thought so.
And when asked whether The Bible contains "everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life," 69 percent agreed either strongly or somewhat. That number was down also from the previous year, when 75 percent responded the same way.
The ABS sees opportunity rather than disappointment in the results.
Lamar Vest, President and CEO of ABS, says, "We do see that as something to be concerned about, but it is still a very high percentage, when you have 82 percent of Americans agreeing on anything. So we're still very pleased about it. We're sorry for the slippage, but still, 82 percent gives us an incredible open door."
One of the challenges the ABS is launching is encouraging people to read the Bible. The survey found that when asked about certain spiritual truths, nearly half (46%) of Americans couldn't differentiate between the teachings of the Bible, the Koran, or the Book of Mormon.
Vest says, "There are probably five Bibles on every shelf in American homes. Americans buy the Bibles, they debate the Bible, they love the Bible... they just don't read the Bible."
Vest is meeting with Joshua Dubois, the head of the President's Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, to begin a dialogue on the importance of the Bible in the founding of the country.
As the ABS approaches its bicentennial in 2016, much of its signage will point to the influence of the Bible on shaping America. For example, Vest says, many of the principles laid out in the U.S. Constitution find their roots in Scripture. For instance, the separation of church and state is seen in the verse from the New Testament's Luke 20:25 -- "Render therefore unto Cesar the things which be Cesar’s, and unto God the things which be God's." It is the principal idea behind the Constitution’s First Amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
And on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia are inscribed the Old Testament's words of Leviticus 25: 10: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."
"So, if you look back in the early days of the formation of this country," says Vest, "it's impossible to separate the formation of our democratic republic from the foundation of Scripture."
The survey reveals how much more work is needed to prove to the public that the Bible is not a dusty out of date, rule book. The ABS, says Vest, is not trying to get people to go out and buy new Bibles, just to make good use of the ones they already have.